We have seen a lot of protest in the past couple years.
We witnessed protests after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by strangers. Then people protested in response to the murder of Breonna Taylor by the police. That was followed by worldwide Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, who was also killed by the police.
People marched in Minneapolis.
They marched in New York City. They marched in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. They marched in Seattle. They marched in Portland.
As some marched, out of concern for the health of my parents, who are in their seventies, I decided to avoid physical contact with people outside of my close circle. Instead, I went live on Facebook, challenging people to show up differently for their Black family members and colleagues and neighbors, for church members who shared a pew or participated in the same home group.
I began to follow others who were reading and speaking and writing about current events — about police brutality, about immigration, about who was being impacted by the novel coronavirus, about virtual learning.
I watched as people on my Facebook timeline posted horrible messages about Black Lives Matter marchers and suggested Black people should just “get with the program or leave the country.”
I watched people I had known for decades rage about the requirement to wear a mask, saying it impinged on their freedoms, suggesting that all of us who were willing to be vaccinated were ignorant lemmings.
I did not march, but I was committed to doing anything to contribute to change. There was only so much talking I could do, only so many hours in the day.
I had to find a platform that could do the work when I could not be around, while I was asleep. So I wrote a book.
And then I began to get calls from schools about students who were being called the “n‑word” and others who were being harassed for their gender identities.
I have hosted a weekly convening of educators, parent and students for close to two years. Until recently, we spent the time responding to random problems of practice related to equity.
Suddenly, the incidents of offense were so many (the most I had seen in my thirty year career in education) that we knew we must devote our time to creating a plan to help the education system significantly change to create school spaces that were safe and affirming for our most underrepresented students.
And then a boy at a basketball game recorded himself yelling at the point guard of the opposing team, calling him “gorilla” and making ape noises.
That video was posted on Instagram and the Black boy, who was targeted, was tagged. The boys both attend schools in our county — not the same district but the same region. To complicate matters, the offender is an immigrant, a refugee, in fact. His family left everything they knew after years of higher education and jobs with great esteem to come to America, the land of opportunity.
The offended boy is the son of a Black father who experienced much of the same as a child in our community, who can tell stories of being called names as an athlete almost twenty years ago.
He speaks of hopes he had for his child to not have to endure the same.
And so the students protest. The students in both schools protested.
Students at the school of “the offender” organized and participated in a “walkout” demanding their school hold their classmate accountable and calling for peers to speak up in the future and not tolerate such behavior.
Six days later, the Black Student Union of the “other” school invited the Black community — parents, community advocates, pastors, educators — to a town hall meeting where they shared their stories of mistreatment in school spaces (racial and sexual harassment). They had a list of demands, short and long-term. They planned a “strike,” which I expected to be like the “walkout” at the other school.
On Monday, I discovered that the plan for the strike was going to be much different than the walk-out the previous week.
The student strike would be like the two Tacoma teachers union strikes I had the opportunity to participate in — one at the beginning of my first year as a teacher and the other several years ago when I walked the picket lines with friends who work for the district. Unlike the teacher strike, where leaders were trained on negotiation and had a process in place to follow, years of teacher strikes before them, these students did not have a playbook. They knew they were hurting and being hurt by public education — for their racial identities and for their genders.
Students came with a list of demands — short-term and long-term — but, for a variety of reasons, they were not trusting of anyone in administration or any adults with whom they did not have previous relationship.
Not trusting adults makes it very difficult to negotiate with adults.
Students used social media to share their platform and publicize the events of the day. Rupert Murdoch’s FNC showed up almost every day posting a photographer on the corner just off campus. On several occasions, parents who did not support the strike showed up to make their feelings known.
There were threats of violence in the comment section of news reports towards the students and towards the school.
There is not one way to protest.
Protest is marching.
Protest is writing.
Protest is negotiating.
Protest is quiet.
Protest is loud.
We are a week out from the first day of student protests, and the students have finally built enough trust with adults to sit at a table with them. Administration has provided several iterations of responses to student demands.
Small groups of students continue to march. Small groups of parents and community leaders continue to show up at the building each morning to support the students in any way possible.
At this moment, I sit in Atlanta in my hotel room preparing to address a room full of education leaders from across the nation about the role of equity in education. This will be my second presentation at the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC), where I share stories of students and administrators back at home.
The topic of our conversation today is “Are we at a tipping point in education?”
The protest as we have witnessed it in Lacey, the concerns expressed by students and community members are a reflection of current realities in the United States. We as a nation are at a tipping point. Who do we want to be? Who is us?
Who do we want to be as a nation from here out? Do we want liberation for all people who reside within our boarders? Are we willing to be honest about our history and embrace all the truths — the good, the bad, and the ugly?
Are we willing to look at systems as they are — education being one of those — to determine the ways they are failing US and doing harm?
We are at a tipping point as a nation.
There are many ways people are protesting our current realities. So many are hurting. Many have lost work. They have lost connection to others.
We have lost loved ones. We are tired. We are anxious.
There are so many unknowns. Unknowns create fear. When people are afraid, they respond in ways that do harm — to ourselves and to others.
In our fear, may we find purpose. May we leverage our collective pain and struggle to make ourselves and our communities better.
What is your protest?
February is Black History Month.
What are you doing to make your community a better place for Black people?